How we built our village

July 22, 2013 | 67 comments

I often hear comments from people who know us in person about what a great support network we have. It is pretty crazy:

Yaya puts a shoe on one kid while...actually,  I have no idea what's going on in this picture.

Yaya puts a shoe on one kid while…actually, I have no idea what’s going on in this picture.

  • Yaya, Joe’s mom, lives 10 blocks away.
  • My mom lives two miles away, within the same network of neighborhoods.
  • My grandfather lives 15 minutes north of us, and my dad recently moved there to be closer to us and to help him out.
  • We know quite a few great babysitters, and can usually find one who’s available when I need an extra pair of hands.
  • We have many wonderful friends, and a wide network of acquaintances.
  • We’re friends with our parish priests, as well as with the amazing young nuns who are building a convent here in town.

This is a setup that’s been years in the making.

When Joe and I were engaged, we started thinking about what we wanted our family life to look like. We realized that people weren’t meant to raise families without the support of a community, and weΒ whole-heartedly agreed with the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The problem was that we had no village. We were living in a downtown loft, we’re both only children, and none of our parents lived nearby. On top of that, Joe was on a career path that meant we’d probably have to move every few years.

A shot of me and my first baby, taken in the mirror of our building’s elevator when we lived downtown (in my very brief period as a blonde).

The more we considered this issue, the more important we thought it was. In July of 2003, with our wedding just around the corner, we decided to make this our top priority. We set out to build our village.

It took a long time to get all the pieces in place — in fact, there were times when I thought that it would never happen. It was only recently, when I started thinking about the fact that our 10th anniversary is coming up, that I realized that we finally have it. Ten years later, I really feel like I’m living my life within a cohesive community.

I want to share some thoughts on what we did that made this kind of setup possible. But first, I’ll give you a snapshot of one of my weeks to show you what I mean by having a “village.” (I don’t normally do all this stuff in seven days — I’d collapse. I’m condensing a few weeks’ worth of stuff for the purposes of illustration):

A week in the life


I take four of the kids to a day camp run by a friend’s 18-year-old daughter. It’s half the cost of other camps, yet I’m more comfortable with it since it takes place at a friend’s house. Also, it feels good to support this young woman, who’s raising money for college.

When I get back to my house, I run into my neighbor from across the street. She’s a single mother, and we’ve been talking about getting her son in some of the same activities as our kids so that we can help her out by giving him rides. We bat around some ideas for making that work, and make plans to do dinner soon.


Our car suddenly had problems, and Joe needed to take it to the shop that morning, right around the time the day camp starts. I call my dad and ask if he can give the kids a ride. He says it’d be no problem — he’s been acting as the family school bus driver a lot this year, and loves that time with the kids.

Later that afternoon, I get the car back just in time to do the camp pickup. We’re friends with every other family whose children are there, and I’d like to be able to say hello to some of them. I drop my two youngest kids off at Yaya’s house so that I can chat with the other moms without a fussy baby and an overtired toddler in tow, and pick them up on the way back home.

My dad putting up our Christmas lights last year.

My dad putting up our Christmas lights last year.


I head up to my grandfather’s house to pick up a dessert he’s put together for our priests. Our parish has a meal ministry where families take turns making homemade meals for our four priests, and my turn rolls around once a quarter. My 99-year-old grandfather is a self-taught gourmet cook, and even though he’s not Catholic, it’s one of his greatest honors to be a part of this ministry. Back when he was 97, he used to prepare lavish dishes with homemade crepes and stuffed Cornish game hens. These days, I usually make the main meal since he’s usually only able to contribute a small dessert, but he’s still grateful for the opportunity to give back in some way.

I take the food down to the parish office. The kids wait at Yaya’s house since I’ll have my hands full taking everything in. While I’m there, I run into a friend and fellow parishioner. Speaking of people cooking meals for others, I thank her for the great dinner she brought us a few months ago. When I was in the hospital, our friends from church mobilized to bring our family meals for six weeks, and she was one of the many people that contributed.

My grandfather and Joe chat on his back porch after a delicious dinner.

My grandfather and Joe chat on his back porch after a delicious dinner.


In the morning, Joe grabs two containers of leftovers of our favorite jambalaya recipe to take to work — one for him, one for a coworker friend. His friend loves to have homemade food for lunch, and since he saves so much money on not having to eat out, he regularly takes Joe to lunch on days when I don’t send meals.

That afternoon, I have our regular babysitter come so that I can get a few things done. All the kids are delighted to see her, and her presence brings some much-needed energy to the house. She’s the oldest of nine, so she’s perfectly capable of dealing with the chaos that comes with having six young children under one roof.


After the kids get back from day camp, they’re all bouncing off the walls. I can’t get the baby down for a nap because everyone is being so noisy, and it’s driving me crazy. My mom calls on the way home from checking her business mailbox at the post office and offers for the two oldest kids to go to her place. She works from home, so she can’t have the younger ones there during business hours, but my seven- and eight-year-olds can usually behave themselves. I eagerly agree, and sent them out the door as soon as she’s on our block. Having two fewer children in the house makes a surprising difference, and everyone settles down.

When Joe gets home, my mom asks if we’d like her to watch the kids so that we can run out for a date night. We try not to openly cry tears of joy as we say yes.

Dinner at my mom’s house with my mom (center), Yaya, and an aunt who was in town.


We go to vigil Mass, and let the kids run around the grounds while we talk to friends afterward. We say hi to the priests, and I think once again how thankful I am to have them as part of our family’s lives. Not only are the intelligent, funny, and super nice men, but every time I was in the hospital earlier this year, one of them came to visit me and bring me the Eucharist. I think of that and am filled with gratitude every time I see them.

That night, we go to dinner at another family’s house. Their kids are the same age as our kids, and everyone gets along fabulously. As I watch our children play, I think of how lucky they are that these friends will probably be part of their lives for a long time, since Joe and I are close with their parents.


I take the girls to pray Vespers with the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and run into a friend of mine who is there with her daughters. As always, I feel filled with energy and inspiration after spending time with the Sisters.

Me with my friend,  Sister Elizabeth Ann,  one of the Sisters of Mary,  Mother of the Eucharist (I'm the one in the pink shirt).

With my friend Sister Elizabeth Ann, who’s holding her nephew at an event for the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

How we built our village

Again, my normal weeks have a lot less activity and a lot more sitting around the house, but that sample does give you an idea of how our “village” functions. You can see that we have a lot of folks in our lives whom we know and trust. They help us both in emergency situations and with the day-to-day challenges of raising kids, and we also have opportunities to give back to them in ways that work with our crazy schedules.

A large part of our setup is simply due to good fortune — we’re very, very lucky to have the kind, generous friends and family members that we do. But I do think that there were a few choices we made that allowed our lives to be more conducive to being part of a close-knit community, and, looking back, I think they’re some of the most important decisions we’ve made in our marriage:

1. We made career sacrifices in order to put down roots.

I moved around a lot as a child. That lifestyle had its advantages, and I enjoyed the adventure of exploring new cities, but it left me with a keen awareness that true communities are always geographically based — in order to be part of a village, you have to stay in the same place.

When Joe and I were engaged, we loved the vision of asking our mothers to come live near us once we started a family…yet Joe was climbing the corporate ladder in the high tech world, which meant that we’d almost certainly have to move as positions were cut or bigger and better opportunities came along in other cities. We realized that we had a choice: we could follow our current plan of chasing jobs around the country, or we could have family live near us. We couldn’t have both.

Grilling at my mom's house shortly after she moved to town.

Grilling at my mom’s house shortly after she moved to town.

We decided to choose stability over career, and it involved making huge changes. Obviously it all worked out, but at the time it was scary to have Joe get on an entirely new career path and make a bunch of financial sacrifices when we were expecting our first child.

2. We pitched the vision to our family

We wanted to have family live near us, and so we started telling them about our vision for building a community where we all supported one another. That sounds like an obvious move, but it wasn’t obvious to me at all. It seemed a little untoward to suggest that we knew better than our parents where they should live. But Joe pointed out that we couldn’t expect them to divine our plans through ESP — and, besides, they could always say no if they didn’t agree that the benefits of living near one another would outweigh the sacrifices of moving.

So we pitched our vision to them, a key part of it being the assurance that we would not move. Sure enough, they were as excited about the idea as we were. Not only were they delighted about being involved in their grandchildren’s lives, but they saw that we’d be around to help them if they needed assistance when they got older. It took nine years for everyone to get in a position to make it happen, but now Joe and I, his mom, my mom, and my dad all live within a few miles of one another.

3. We made location sacrifices in order to live in an area accessible to everyone

When we were first married, we assumed that we’d live in one of the charming neighborhoods in central Austin once we had kids. We pretty quickly realized, though, that that wasn’t going to be an option if we wanted to build our village: now that he was off the corporate track, we couldn’t afford houses in those areas. Even more importantly, our parents couldn’t afford to live there. We ended up moving to a suburb where there’s a wide variety of housing available, which meant that both of our mothers could find houses nearby that they loved and could afford.

My mom taking the kids trick-or-treating.

My mom taking the kids trick-or-treating.

4. We found a thriving church and lived near it

Okay, this one was not a conscious choice we made — God totally hooked us up when we were in the process of conversion — but it’s made a huge difference in our lives to be part of a busy parish community. Coming from a nonreligious background, I’ve been amazed at how strong the bonds are between people who go to our church. In the secular world I had moms’ groups and community organizations, but their membership was ever-changing and I didn’t really have anything in common with the other people. It was a fascinating experience when I first started meeting new people at parish events and realized that, by virtue of the fact that we share the same faith, we actually knew a lot about one another and had at least a few basic things in common.

As the years have gone by, our parish community has played a big role in our lives — and it gets bigger every year. Our kids are involved in many of its classes and programs, like Mother’s Day Out, religious ed, American Heritage Girls, the annual Christmas pageant, etc. The parish grounds are our home base for most of our activities, and so we run into the same people all the time. Joe has made a lot of friends through the Knights of Columbus. I’m on the email list for the moms’ group, which is a great source of information and camaraderie. We’re flooded with friends bringing meals any time we have a baby or experience a crisis, and we bring meals to other families in those situations as well.

It’s funny now to remember that when I converted to Christianity from atheism, I thought it was a purely intellectual decision. I could have never imagined just how much being part of a church would be critical to our vision of being part of a village.

5. We waited

Five years into our marriage, I felt like this whole community-building endeavor was a failure. Only my mom lived near us, and while she was a tremendous help, she was also busy with her full-time job. We’d been members of our parish for a couple of years, but I hadn’t really met many people. Any kind of socializing was difficult with two toddlers and a baby, and I didn’t even know my neighbors. What I didn’t understand then is that true communities don’t pop up overnight — or even over the span of a couple of years. It takes a lot of time, but the wait is well worth it.

On the lookout for deer (pronounced "dee-oh!")

On the lookout for deer (pronounced “dee-oh!”)

. . .

Not everyone can do what we’ve done — a lot of folks don’t have parents who are in a situation to live near them, or they have to move regularly, or they have some other circumstance that wouldn’t allow them to follow this same path. I would simply suggest that people do whatever they can to be part of some stable community, even if the situation isn’t perfect. As I look back on our ten years of marriage and compare our lives then to our lives now, one of my biggest takeaways is that life is a whole lot easier when you live it in a village.

(I’m posting every day this week! To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see this list.)


  1. ACL

    That’s so fantastic and I’ll admit that I am the teeniest bit jealous!! πŸ™‚ We want this for our family, too, and we have pieces of it, but the biggest obstacle are parents (both sets) who don’t want to do it – at least not right now. I guess I need to get better at the “waiting” part. But of course during all the waiting, my kids are growing and when they’re grown I won’t need that same kind of community. Oh well, I’ll keep trying! Enjoy the network you’ve built, it’s wonderful! πŸ™‚

  2. Christine Johnson

    I love this! I’ve often wondered at your amazing network and how you managed to fall into it. Now I know falling had nothing to do with it! Good for you & Joe for thinking such things through so carefully!

    And thanks for the #7for7 challenge.

  3. Catholic Kara

    I recently blogged about the problems with Catholic communities, and this is so great to see, that some people DO have a flourishing one. I really do hope that we have a great one some day, because it’s very hard, and very lonely, as converts, especially, to have no community to fall back on.

  4. Julie

    I love this, I love this, I love this. Especially #5. Last summer we moved to our “forever” house in a town near some of my extended family. We chose a parish we thought would be a good long-term community for us, and we’ve started to get involved there. But still, we haven’t made any new friends. Thanks for the reminder that building a “village” can take time.

  5. Colleen Martin

    You are so blessed! We live near lots of my family, but unfortunately still don’t have too much help. My parents have 20 grandchildren and I am very sensitive to the fact that one of their 6 kids may be asking for help, so we only ask about 4 times a year for a date. It’s one of the things that makes me sad about big families having big families – everyone is so busy with their own family that there’s not much time to really help another out.

    • Ellen

      This is so true, Colleen. I sometimes feel sad about not living in my family’s bubble, but in reality, my parents already have their hands full with my two sisters and their collective 5 (almost 6) kids, my elderly Grandma and my two youngest siblings still at home! I love my family, but I can’t help but feel a little jealous of people from smaller families who’s parents drop everything to come help out and see their grandkids. My parents don’t have that luxury.

      Good post, Jen! It’s a great reminder to keep chipping away at building our village here. After two years in this area we’re finally making friends!

      • Meghan

        I was just going to chime with the same thought. It is a benefit for Jen and her husband to be only children in this regard…their parents are eager to help! My parents love, love my kiddos, however, they raised 7 of their own and are tired. They feel like if they help one of us, they need to offer it to the rest of us. Also, I’m happy for them. They are finally at a place they can enjoy each other and what God has in store for them with adult children. They enjoy their grandkids, but don’t babysit. So my community does not include my parents (or his for the same reason). We need to hire help and our budget is tight. Feels like a tough season and a good reason to hold of on the babies.

  6. Ann-Marie

    You make a good point about trusting people with your kids. We have a lot of friends who are near and willing to help – I just need to let go and relax some. Thanks for the great insight. It *almost* makes me want to live in Austin.

  7. Diva

    From the description of your week, it seems to me that the greatest part of that helpful ‘community’ or ‘network’ is actually made of your parents. They are the ones that help you the most (by far and large) in the everyday living. I just wonder what it would all look like were you two not the only children…

    To explain what I mean in greater detail, let me say that, although I am not much of a believer (actually, I am not at all), I mostly agree with conservative positions regarding the way of life, gender roles, number of children in a family, etc. It seems to me that the modern life is optimized to a greater profit instead to a greater good of people. And I think something should be done about it. But then again it is fascinating to me to see people proposing as directions and solutions something that works only in very specific circumstances, which are mainly due to the very opposite philosophy of life… I mean, the main ideological stream of this blog is something of a ‘we have to be open to life’, and then ‘yeah, it is quite impossible to do it in today’s mainstream philosophy of life, but you can do it if you make sacrifices and create a network’. And then it turns out that the mentioned network consists mainly of your parents, who can become part of your network precisely because they didn’t have much children. Even if we accept that many couples today are in such a position, so the theory holds for a significant percent of couples today, it is quite obvious that such theory is generally invalid. It will take only one generation for it to become completely inapplicable. I mean, when your six children grow up, will you be able to give the same amount of help to each of them as your mother is giving to you? Even if they all lived close by, they could only get one sixth of that help or even little more, since you could take more children at once, but definitely not nearly as much as you are receiving as the only child. And it is not likely that they will all live close to each other after all, so some of them will not get any help at all.

    To conclude, I think that this stuff you are writing about is very lucky for you, but it is due to very specific circumstances and so it is not adequate solution to the problem of joining the life in an industrialized society with the life in big families. Not by a long shot…

    • Dorian Speed

      Diva, those are interesting points. Of course, presumably Jen’s children will be able to help one another out when they are all grown up with families of their own. That’s what I have seen from my own experience with friends who live near their siblings, at least.

      I have to admit that, as an only child who lives 1,000 miles away from my own family, I’m reading Jen’s post and feeling a little down. We’ve been in our current location for about two years now and are slowly building a support system of our own since we don’t have family in town. It’s been slow going, but then we haven’t been very deliberate about doing so, and I’m starting to feel like that needs to change.

      My takeaway from this post is that I admire the Fulwilers for making plans not from an approach of “what will let us leverage ourselves the best for continued career success and zillionairedom” but rather with the goal of building a good life for their children and for themselves.

      • Christine Johnson

        I know what you mean, too. I have one sibling & used to live in the same town as my sister and parents. When I worked part-time, my mom & dad babysat. When we wanted to go out, same thing. My parents really were my support network for those things, and I had little other support (just mere friendship is a great means of support). This was no one’s fault but my own because I am horribly introverted and have a very difficult time going from stranger to friends with people.

        Nine years ago, my husband got a fabulous promotion and we moved from Central Florida to Southwest Virginia. I knew absolutely no one here. One single phone call from our parish after we registered (writing down “homeschoolers” somewhere on the paper) connected me to a group of Catholic families who had a co-op. After a very specific invitation to the group (long story, that), I wound up making some amazing and wonderful friends. When many of us had small children, we formed a babysitting co-op, but even without that, the mere friendship was so good for me.

        Oddly enough, moving away from my family and my built-in network of support (small as it was) wound up giving our family an amazing new start in life, and helped me make friends again after not doing so for a very, very long time. We’ve grown in such ways, I can’t even begin to catalog it here. (And I’m sure Jen will thank me for that.)

        Anyway, I suppose my point is that our support comes in many ways, and it does take time, especially being away from family. But it’ll happen, slowly but surely. πŸ™‚

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      You bring up interesting point, but, per my comment to Mary, there are ways to make it work even if your parents aren’t around to help. I know many families with lots of kids. When I think of my five closest friends here in town, they all have 5+ kids, and I don’t think any of them have parents who are nearby. They have a great network of friends and support from our parish, and seem to be doing very well.

    • Sarah Humm

      Excellent point! Indeed it is quite rare to have both husband and wife be only children. So this type of network would not be possible for most families.

      • Laura

        I disagree. My husband is the eldest of nine, and moving to the same town as his family is a decision I’m sooo happy we made. His parents are a huge help to us, but so are his younger brothers and sisters. Some of them are having kids of their own now, so we do have to “share” the grandparents. But the younger siblings will continue to be able to help us for quite some time. And eventually our kids will be able to babysit the younger cousins. And when my childbearing years are over I hope to be able to serve in a grandmother-type role for my younger nieces and nephews . . . . Being part of a big family is a huge blessing all around.

    • Michelle

      Dear Diva. My husband and I have 8 children. We live on base and have neither family or any other extra help. I’ll admit that it is partly by choice. We do have servants though. πŸ™‚ (i.e. dishwasher, washer, dryer, etc. etc.)

      While I would love the network that Jen is blessed with, I know that it is God’s grace and divine providence that sustains us. It may feel at times like we are hanging by a thread, but at the end of the day, it’s totally worth every effort. These children are amazing!

      The community is right here. Each has learned by necessity that we must help one another and that will be a natural response for them throughout life.

      I hope you come to believe someday. It will be worth it, I can assure you.

  8. Jane

    Great post! I would love to have our families live closer to us, but it likely won’t happen in the near future, if at all. I totally agree that it takes time – we’ve only been in our city for 2 years, moving once in that time frame, and we’re not even close to having a village yet. We hardly know our neighbours, but we’ll get there eventually.

  9. Emily Davis

    What a fantastic support system you have.
    I come from a very dysfunctional family and we are happy that they are not nearer. Yes, I wish I had The Walton’s or Ma & Pa Ingalls as parents, but it didn’t work out that way for us. My husband’s parents have passed. I am from a military family and married a military man. Sigh. Roots are very important to us. So – we created a support system from our Parish and friends. We feel blessed still. But I can’t help feel a ting of envy… I hope you don’t mind. I wish we had Nuns locally. I miss them from my youth.


  10. majellamom

    Love this – I agree particularly with the sacrifices and the waiting. We chose before we had kids to give up career ambitions to move to hubby’s small hometown to be near family when we had our kids. We’ve ended up moving and changing jobs several times to make our extended family network work better. We have now put down very firm roots with hubby farming with his dad and brother. I never thought I’d be a farm wife! A few weeks ago, I was trying to figure out how many relatives we have close by, and within 5 miles or so, we have 9 houses full of relatives. Some we see all the time, some less frequently. But it is a support network when we need it.

  11. Christina Grace @ The Evangelista

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey to village life. You are totally living my dream and I pray that when I get married I’ll be able to cultivate something similar. I also have to admit that you’ve assuaged some of my fears of suburbia (although I still loathe the thought of driving so much), which is good. On another note, I’m so happy you’re doing a post every day this week!

  12. JQ Tomanek

    Another village can be seen in all the people that support your different endeavors like the quick takes and these seven days of blogging. Thanks for the post. It reminds me of the one you wrote about living near the parish.

    Keep up all your good work.

  13. Mary

    This is so neat and I think it’s great you have so much support. I think the part that sticks out to me, though, is that you and Joe are both only children. Most of the other couples we know that come from bigger families have very little help simply because there just aren’t enough grandparents to go around and the grandparents (understandably so) don’t want to spend every single day babysitting a different set of grandchildren. This is something I’ve been ruminating on for several years now and trying to figure out how it “should” work in some sort of Catholic utopia. I wish I had the answer but I just don’t see how it can all work together…encouraging large families while still giving those families the support they need in our current culture. The exponential growth aspect seems to make that very very hard. My only solution has been to pray that a homeschooling family with several preteen and teenage daughters moves next door πŸ™‚

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Great questions, Mary. I think about that too.

      There are a couple of multi-generational big families around here, and it’s been interesting to see how they operate. Basically, the parents encourage the kids (now adults) to put down roots near them if at all possible. Not all of them can swing that, but many do. Then the adult children can help each other out, in addition to the parents. For example, a woman I know from one of these families has a standing deal where she and her brother take turns watching each other’s kids every Friday night — so one Friday she and her husband get a date night, the next Friday her brother and his wife do, and the kids get to do spend-the-nights with their cousins regularly.

      I’m hoping that something like this works out when our kids are grown. πŸ™‚

    • Meika

      This makes me think of the way my dad grew up, in a neighborhood with all sixty or whatever of his cousins. One thing that stuck out in my great-aunt’s memoir was how when she was a girl, she and her friends/neighbors/cousins would walk the neighbors’ babies – they’d put them in the stroller and walk them around the neighborhood so the mom could get some housework done. She confessed to snitching one of a cousin’s gingerbread cookies on one of these walks. It seems like larger families have more potential options for a support network than smaller families do – more siblings to potentially live near and a greater likelihood that there’s an age differential between cousins so everyone isn’t in the insane infant-toddler phase at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading examples of how people make it work now, too.

      • Mary

        My siblings and even some friends and I have actually talked about doing something like that. It just seems that we are all in the same boat with being very busy, each having their own things going on, all with four or five young children. Just organizing things like that ends up feeling like more stress than it’s worth. I know, that probably sounds lame. Added to that the differing expectations and peer influences that are a BIG and valid concern for us. We are in the same area as some other siblings but just far enough away that popping over at a moment’s notice isn’t realistic…and since siblings also have young children, they aren’t available and I wouldn’t be comfortable asking them for help without a serious reason. Most of the people I know from big families have been raised with a “suck it up and deal” approach and feel weird asking for help while those I know who are from small families seem much more willing to take help and get lots. I admit, sometimes it’s really hard to not be jealous of that and I’ve struggled with the fact that while my kids are loved by grandparents and other family, it’s not like people are clamoring to be with them and help. But at the same time I REALLY appreciate the independence that comes from not accepting help (which, obviously, I know needs to be tempered by a virtuous willingness to accept help and I’m working on that!). I’m not sure I’m willing to let go of that so that my kids can participate in more activities and I can go shopping alone sometimes (though, oh my goodness, those things are sometimes very attractive). So far, I really feel like that’s the prudent decision given our circumstances and I see really good fruit from that. Part of me also cringes at the chaos that that type of lifestyle feels like (my introvert melancholic choleric sneaking in). A big part of me would still love to live near some like-minded families for the reason of community and the things you mention and I see tremendous value in that. I would love to have a parish family like you describe and we DO have a lot of faithful families in this diocese and area which is a huge gift. We are certainly not alone here but it’s nothing like you describe. For right now, I feel like we’ve gotten through the majority of the hard years in that respect and soon my oldest will be old enough to stay home alone and help more. I appreciate this discussion a lot…very challenging and thought-provoking. I also think it hits a hidden nerve for many!

  14. Laura

    What a blessing to have such a fantastic support system! When my husband and I had our first child, we didn’t live near any family and none of our friends had children yet. It was a very difficult adjustment. I always encourage new parents-to-be to start getting involved in family-type ministries and to seek out other couples in their parish that are pregnant or already have children.

  15. Jennifer @ Little Silly Goose

    Love, love, love this! This is the perfect post for our current situation. I think God is truly speaking to me through you. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  16. Theresa

    I am one of six. My husband and I also have 6 children aged 9 and under and are celebrating our tenth anniversary. My parents live half way across the country and will never move here because they don’t want to, they have 5 other children and after all I am the one who moved away. We can’t live there because in a town of 888 people there aren’t enough jobs. But God has taken care of us anyway and we have a network of friends in a similar situation as ourselves. We all help each other out and it really does feel like this is the way it is supposed to be. When I have a baby my mom can’t always come help. But my friends make me meals and generally I have meals for a month. God always takes care of His own. When your mother or father can’t be around He gives you more mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers!

  17. Meika

    Jen, best post ever here. This is exactly our vision, and at several years in I’ve been feeling discouraged. But I’m seeing glimmers of hope, and this is exactly the encouragement I needed to keep on keepin’ on. Gracias.

  18. Catherine

    I’ve always wondered how you had such a great support network. Way to go for being so proactive and visionary in setting that up. We moved to the city where my mom lived, and invited my mother-in-law to move too, which she did. But, in a few years they both remarried and moved away! All for the best for them, but I suspect we were never as grateful and gracious as you and Joe are with your parents. Blessings on your family!

  19. Amy

    This is a wonderful post and I think it’s so amazing that you’ve been able to make this all work by making the choices you’ve made. Our nearest family member is 5 hours away, and it is so hard to have three little ones (Only 3!) with no family nearby. I have been trying to get my parents to move near my husband and me for years (though I don’t think it’s going to work out because my Dad does not want to live in a northern state again).

    I am excited to have had wonderful experiences with our church community already (we’ve only been attending for about four months and members for one week πŸ™‚ ). I hope that our ability to give and receive support through that source will continue to grow.

  20. Monica

    Brings tears to my eyes! What a beautiful glimpse into how things ought to be!

  21. Betsy

    I thought you were an introvert…? How do you not go crazy and want to hide in your closet after even 1 week like that? (honest question!)

  22. Sarah

    Do either you or your husband have siblings, and do they live nearby also? Or if not, how did your parents decide to move close to you and not them? My sister and BIL moved back to our hometown and they get TONS of help from my parents with their kids (a lot like you describe) but I don’t feel resentful about it because that was her choice to live in a tiny town and as much as the help would be awesome sometimes, I prefer the added independence from Mom & Dad that I have being in a different city a few hours away.

  23. Laura

    Thank you!! Reading this post has been a big sigh of relief for me. It’s good to know that community IS possible- eventually. We’ll keep your tips in mind as we go forward with our young family’s life πŸ™‚

  24. Josie

    This reminds me of a book called (along with it being a topic I think about endlessly having just had our 5th baby with zero family around) “The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming” by Rod Dreher. “Reminds me” in that I bought it in April and meant to read it this summer! I think it will be about making certain sacrifices and decisions based on the desire for roots and strong community. That’s why I bought it anyway, I am hopeful! Great post, Jen, you always write about things that are currently moving their way through my heart and mind and I’m so thankful that you share! God bless!

  25. Monica

    Jen, love the post!!! It just tells me that God is guiding and waiting to Bless us if we take the leap of faith to ask our trusted family, neighbors and friends for help. I have three adult son’s. The two oldest are married and both have two children each. I found it heart breaking and difficult working full time and try to find time to help them even with their small families. But it always worked out. I realized it was God’s timing and providence working in our lives and still to this day.

    I am one of eight children. My mom who was a stay at home mom (I am so glad she did)always found to help us raise our kids. She loved it even though she may have wanted to pull her hair out sometimes. With out my mom and dad we would have had to use the day care system. Now we all live near our mom and dad, and are taking of care them as they have slowed down a lot. The adult grandchildren help too. When my mom was sick last year, we thought she was not going to make it. All of us were ready to help take care of our Dad as best we could if mom passed. Thankfully she did not.

    That is what families do, help each other as much and as best they can. No matter what family size and present social economic culture.

    I hope God continues to Bless YaYa, your Mom and Dad and great grandpa with good health for a long time to come.

    God Bless you all!!!

  26. takecharge capital

    Heya we are with the main time frame in this article. I stumbled upon this particular aboard we find It genuinely valuable & them helped me out there lots. Hopefully to offer a thing once again along with guide people just like you made it easier for my family.

  27. Kari

    I love that picture of you and Sister Elizabeth Ann. I don’t know her personally but I feel like I do from seeing her on EWTN.

  28. TheresaEH

    You have a parish with awesome priests and family near by,…..priceless. I LUV the fact your grandfather is still cooking for himself and others!!

  29. Monica Benninghoff

    Oh, if only more people would plan for their children’s future as you have obviously planned for yours! To be raised by this wonderful “village” is a gift from God that will be treasured by your kids when they grow and realize how much time and effort and prayer you invested! Bravo!

  30. MelanieB

    I find this really hopeful and helpful. We’re still at that stage where our community hasn’t quite coalesced, but we’ve only been in our house (and thus our town and our parish) for four years. I know it takes time and I can see the beginnings of that community forming. I feel our parish becoming more of a community and more of a home. I feel the women in the parish starting to reach out, the tenuous beginnings of friendships. I can see the beginnings of a homeschooling network. And… Dom’s mother is actually going to be moving closer soon and maybe will be more available to be a part of our network. So I’m hopeful that when we hit our ten year anniversary in a couple of years we might be a lot closer to having a village than I can even imagine right now.

  31. Aricca

    This could not have come at a more appropriate time for us. My husband and I have discerned to move and I can’t even begin to tell you the joy in our hearts. The parish appears to be amazing and bursting with family life, unlike our current area. But I think you nailed it!!! Sacrifices, Prayer, and patience!!!! Thanks for sharing!

  32. Kerry Wolf

    Jen this is such a lovely thing that it works so well for your beautiful, thriving family. Unfortunately, my husband’s parents and my own were dead before our kids were very old at all, and my only sibling lives far away, as did his–both in expensive enclaves in L.A. and Houston, that we could ill afford, and his sister wanted no part of children anyhow. Church does help a lot, and did help when my husband recently died leaving myself and our 13 year old. But the “village” was not a do-able thing for us. I wish it had been. My child is special needs and I am scalp-deep in horrible grief for my beloved, and I feel I have no one–no one at all–to help. I am terrified and I am alone–except, of course, for the Lord.

    By the way, when do the sisters have vespers, and where? Is it open to the public? I’d love to attend.

  33. Kelly @ Love Well

    This is really insightful. It should be required reading for all young couples. I feel like, our society today, with its push to move and discover and explore (all good things, by the way) overlooks the value of community. And the hard facts are – it’s difficult to continually reform community, and it takes time.

    My husband and I have four kids, ages 3-11. We’ve moved constantly when we were younger (we were married almost 10 years before starting a family) and loved the adventure of it. We didn’t think about the value extended family might provide (partly because neither of us grew up with extended family), so we learned the hard way. At this stage, we are committed to staying in one spot, building that community (our church is a huge part of that) and providing some stability for our family.

  34. Kerri B.

    This is great!! So glad you were able to do this for your family. It’s funny, I was chatting with someone online tonight who I met via Facebook. She and I attend the same parish but we haven’t met in person, at least not to our knowledge. We found out we go to the same Mass and when I started mentioning the people I knew she knew them too!! Such a small world. But our conversation also came back to mind in reading your post because she asked me how I knew those mutual friends. As I started explaining I realized that this is my community of support, or at least part of it. I moved to my current city 13 years ago as a single, fresh out of grad school 25 year old who was no longer practicing her faith. But over the years, I started going back to Church, met some fabulous friends, met my now husband, and now we are fully entrenched in a fabulous community. We just bought a new house in a neighborhood that one of our friends live in and I have a pretty good support network if I need it. I was amazed at the generosity of so many people when I was on bed rest two years ago. Neither my husband or I have family close enough to us to help in any meaningful way, so it’s just us. But I’m slowly learning that I have a great support network that was years in the making. Thanks for this post, it helped me to see my community here for what it really is!!

  35. Mandi @ Messy Wife, Blessed Life

    Oh goodness, we’re moving away from our “village” this week after living with my parents for a year and trying everything possible for my husband to get a job here. I hope someday this will work out for my family too. You are so blessed!

  36. Jessica

    We just recently moved back to my husband’s hometown in an effort to build our village. Unfortunately, his mom moved to the other side of the country three years ago and his sister is now looking to do the same. It makes it hard to be close to family when nobody stays in the same place. We are planting the seeds to try to get my parents up here someday, though. (I sent my mom this post!)

  37. Julia Shanon

    So inspiring! Is it ok if i repost it on my blog?

  38. Jen

    We are blessed to have amazing friends in our life. My husband comes from a large family, but they all live in Louisiana. We are in MD due to his job (ex military), and we just had our sixth too. I was freaking out months before the birth because my parents have made the decision to not be in our life after I set up some much needed boundaries with them (very dysfunctional family, and at the same time no contact with my sister for the same reason…it was a hard decision, but one my spiritual director actually recommended). But God provided. We have super friends who watched our kids for all of my appointments…which were a lot given my history of pre term labor. I had amazing support at the hospital as my friend works there. We had all we needed, even if it wasn’t family. And the baptism was incredibly wonderful due to the god parents and their family coming in and taking care of pretty much everything. Even though I have six kids, I plan on being there for them as much as I can. My husband parents travel all the time to see their eight kids. They live here in MD, NC, and Florida…but my MIL is a determined southern woman who makes sure she sees those grandkids and helps out as much as she can.

  39. Josee Turner

    Awesome article! You made me happy, thanks. I am sure you will inspire another young family.God Bless you all!

  40. Lauren

    Such an important topic. I wanted to respond to those that noticed that Jen’s primary community consists of her family. But Jen really did say so much more than that. First, what I admired was her mentioning of reaching out to her neighbor in need and seeing how they could help each other. That is so admirable and a call to all of us to seek what community we can build right next to us. Sometimes as Catholics we get fearful of stepping out of the “Catholic bubble”, but it is really what we are called to do. I certainly have been guilty of that timidity in my own neighborhood, but slowly we are all getting to know each other. A lot of my neighbors are retired, and I hope that as the years go by and their physical abilities diminish, my children and I will be able to help them in whatever way we can.

    Second, I wanted to offer encouragement to those that feel down about their lack of community, or who have parents who are not able to help. I moved across the country after our wedding, and my community was nonexistent for several years. Year after year I longed for that fantasy dream of couples with like-minded values that we could invite over for dinner and have our kids play together. It seemed in would never happen. But 4 years ago we moved into a different area with a different parish. I let the priest know we were seeking to make connections. In turn, he began passing along some names and numbers of moms he knew that might be interested in forming a mom’s group. More and more I felt the call to step out of my introverted self and be an organizer for this endeavor. It took longer than I thought…I had to be more persistent than I was comfortable with. Lots of attempts at a park play dates in which no one showed up. Finally, with one (one!) friend, I stumbled across the idea to do a book study. I thought, if anything, the two of us will do it together, even if no one else wants to do it. But I did make those phone calls one more time, just to see if they were interested. And 6 months later, there was this group of 5 or 6 moms meeting on a regular basis, starting to feel like they were getting to know people in the parish. To date, that group has grown to more like 15, and our sense of community is thriving. Without even taking into account anyone’s parents, we have the kind of community Jen describes, where we help each other with childcare, meals, you name it. And this is definitely part of a larger effort within the parish to keep it family-centered. It certainly hasn’t been an isolated effort on my part. But my point is, if you desire it, see what you can do to get it started. Your willing spirit might just be what God is waiting for.

  41. Becky

    Jen, your situation sounds almost like it is a set for a tv show! πŸ™‚ What you’re saying is so very true and I agree with all of it. I was thinking last night that I don’t have many friends because I haven’t gone out there to get any.

    My sister has a situation like yours and I’ve always been the teeniest bit jealous. πŸ™‚ She also has nuns living “in her backyard” and she just sends her kids over there to pray all the time. She’s grown very close to them and they’ve been a great support system for her. I think because it’s so unusual though, that God is the one responsible for making this possible for her–and for you too!

  42. Jamie

    Great discussion in the comments here!! This subject is at the forefront of our minds right now and this was just what we needed to read this week πŸ™‚

  43. jennifer

    As an Air Force wife (16 years), I especially agree with the idea that you need to stay put to build community. Until this assignment, we had never lived anywhere longer than 3 years (usually 2.5 years and sometimes as brief as 5 months…). The military does a decent job of creating a pseudo-community and we have made some wonderful friends over the years (non of whom live near us…) but it isn’t what I have been longing for. Not being a part of a community has been my biggest sacrifice as an AF wife.

    We have been at our current location for just over 4 years and I am just now starting to feel the beginnings of a community. My husband is retiring from the AF in a few months and we are currently deciding if we will stay put or start all over again. Even though neither of us loves the area where we live, we are strongly leaning toward staying put because we hate the prospect of starting over (again)!

  44. JC

    “It took nine years for everyone to get in a position to make it happen, but now Joe and I, his mom, my mom, and my dad all live within a few miles of one another.”

    I’m sure it well worth the sacrifices! This is a part of why my wife and I don’t want to leave Austin–we don’t have parents nearby, but we do have siblings nearby, and we’ve invested a lot of time and effort in building up some sense of community within our parish. The siblings are not, perhaps, as close as your parents, but they’re still reasonably close by. I can also remember growing up and having both sets of grandparents within 30 minutes, plus roughly half of my aunts and uncles in near proximity. Definitely worth-while compared to living halfway across the country.

  45. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    WOW! this is beautiful…unfortunately, we are in the opposite situation because of work/vocation restrictions. His family is 10,000 miles away and my family is 900 miles away…if I weren’t such an extreme introvert, I might be better at building a village with no actual family members….

  46. Andrea

    I think, too, that it’s important that people aren’t passive in their parishes. If you have a lame parish, bloom where you’re planted and start something! People are so passive in this regard, acting like it’s the role of the priests or staff to be parish social coordinators! Start a book group, host a picnic, feed the homeless, have a Martini Mass (Martinis AFTER Mass with potluck). Get off your baptized butt and help build the village!

  47. Lauren

    I love this post so much and have so many things I’d love to say, but I’m nursing and typing with one hand right now, so brevity is of the essence. ;). I’m ridiculously excited to see Sr. Elizabeth Ann because I KNOW her!! ( and their aren’t enough cap locks or exclamation points to adequately convey my excitement here…) I went to high school with her! In New Orleans! Before she was Elizabeth Ann! She and my sister were very good friends, and I was 2 years behind, to be truthful. She slept over at our house lots of times! I knew from my sister that she was a Dominican, but have’t seen even a picture of her in many years, so I was overjoyed to see her on my computer screen this morning. Anyway, now I feel like we are legit friends because we have someone in common. πŸ˜‰

    • Lauren

      Ugh! I meant to write ” ‘there’ aren’t enough cap locks…” Such a peeve of mine!

  48. Marie

    Our closest blood relative who has ever watched one of my children for an hour is 1,000 miles away. I have a village, but its composed of friends and took years to develop.
    But now I can set up carpools because I know families who have kids interested in the same things mine are. I have people who can watch my children if I need to go to the doctor rather than bring them all along. I have a couple of people whose phone number I can recite by memory to one child as I drive another to the ER. And I knew people would come get the uninjured kids and take them home.
    I’ve picked up a friend’s uninjured kids from the ER; I’ve gone out after my bedtime to pick up someone stranded. I’ve had a friend’s husband spend a night a month on my couch while doing an interstate commute. I’ve gone to someone’s house in the middle of the night so one parent could drive the other to the hospital.
    Less urgently: I have people I borrow hand-me-downs from and people I lend mine to. I have neighbors from whom I can borrow eggs or flour and who do the same with me. I have neighbors who watch my pet, take in my mail, park in my normal parking spot when I’m out of town. They even shoveled a parking spot and a path through the snow and made footprints so the house looked occupied while I was on vacation.
    I hadn’t realized what I had done until I read Jen’s post.
    Suggestions: talk to people at playgrounds, at pickups and drop offs. Find out the adults names and remember them. Go to park days, parish picnics, town concerts, library programs. Say hello to one person you don’t know each time. If you are lucky enough find one or two networked extroverts who like to organize things will go much faster : )
    Look for ways to help other people. Join a meals ministry. Offer things on free cycle. Lend out hand me downs. Stay after to help clean up.
    Realize it will take several years. Good post because soon I might be moving even farther away from family and very far from where I am now. When I start all over I can do it on purpose instead of by accident.

  49. Erika Marie

    This is beautiful. In reading this, I realized how similar we are and how grateful I am for or own village of close family and wonderful friends. We are truly blessed.

  50. mike

    I love you beautiful people for what you are doing. It’s inspiring to see people striving to make a catholic family work. I hope to find the right woman and do the same someday.

  51. Andrea

    Also, I’ve wondered how your parents feel about the size of your family. Any requests from them as to size limits?

  52. Joanne

    I have to admit that I am jealous of the community you have built up around your family. My husband and I got married the summer that he graduated from seminary and was ordained in his denomination. We were young (and I had not been a member of his denomination before we got married) and nobody told us that it was the norm for clergy to move frequently in the early years of their career in his denomination before settling down in a more long-term position. I guess nobody mentioned it because they thought we knew, but we literally did not know this would be required of us, especially since those were the years that most of our children were born. Our three kids were each born in a different state. In retrospect, it seems truly cruel to set clergy families up for this kind of stress and difficulty, and I know it is not the only way to do it because not every denomination functions this way as the norm. It is also difficult as a clergy family because it is a priority to maintain a different kind of boundary with members of my husband’s parish than I would if we were just another family in the parish. People can be super kind, helpful & generous with us because of my husband’s vocation. On the other hand people can sometimes feel like it is okay to intrude into our privacy & the privacy of our children because we are a clergy family. It can be tricky to find a balance.

  53. Tara

    Love love loved this post and this idea. We have strived to set this up now in our first years of marriage before kids and are so thankful to see it come together – mostly by the grace of God

  54. Angie

    I love this post! I wish our life could have been more like this when our kids were young, but it wasn’t meant to be. More than anything, I want to be a supportive part of my children’s families as they marry and start families of their own. My eldest just got married and my youngest is fourteen, so I’m already trying to balance “supportive” and “smothering”. Any and all suggestions would be appreciated!!

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- SubscribeΒ on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates